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House productive in session's seventh week
Hitchens Bill
State Rep. Bill Hitchens

The Georgia General Assembly returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, Feb. 22 for the seventh week of the 2021 legislative session. We spent five productive days in session and passed more legislation on the House floor and in our committees. By the end of the week, we finished Legislative Day 24, and passed the halfway point of the session. The important “Crossover Day” deadline is right around the corner.

Both the House and the Senate continue working on legislation to address issues from last year’s election cycle. The House Special Committee on Election Integrity is spending hours each week hearing testimony, researching best practices, and carefully drafting and perfecting legislation to update our election laws and the election process. They have produced HB 531 which is an omnibus, comprehensive elections bill addressing major concerns expressed by Georgia voters. This bill should be on the floor for debate and a vote this week. The Senate has passed several individual bills and is also working on a comprehensive piece of legislation. Much work remains because, to become law, the House and Senate much reach agreement on these important issues.

My colleagues and I received news from Gov. Brian Kemp that the state is poised to expand Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccine priority list to include teachers and school staff. Starting Monday, all of Georgia’s pre-K and K-12 teachers and school staff, as well as Department of Early Care and Learning staff, will join the state’s Phase 1A+ group, which currently consists of those who are 65 and older, first responders, health care workers and staffers, and residents of long-term facilities. 

In addition to Georgia teachers and school staff, the state will also expand vaccination access to adults with mental and developmental disabilities and their caregivers and children with complex health issues plus their caretakers. The state also recently launched four state-operated mass vaccination sites across Georgia in Bibb, Dougherty, Fulton and Habersham counties. 

The governor and our state’s public health leaders have taken to heart the calls to expand vaccination efforts to more Georgians and have been advocating for increased vaccine allocations from the federal government, which should also continually increase in the coming weeks. Since vaccination efforts began a little more than two months ago, roughly 1.9 million vaccines have been administered to approximately 1.2 Georgians, which means we have surpassed 50 percent of our eligible residents. Our testing positivity rate is also at its lowest in months at approximately 10 percent. These trend-lines could continue to move in the right direction with more vaccines administered each day.

Like many of you, I was dismayed this past year when “defund the police” became a rallying cry for several prominent groups in our country, and appalled that many cities across our country-and several in our state-seriously considered making drastic cuts to their public safety budgets. The Georgia House made a statement that we proudly stand with our men and women who serve in our various law enforcement agencies. We passed legislation, mainly along party lines, that restricts the ability of any of Georgia’s counties and cities to defund their police departments. H.B. 286 prohibits counties and municipalities from reducing their police force budgetary appropriations by more than five percent unless specified conditions exist. Those conditions include changes in county revenues that fall below certain levels, an intergovernmental agreement that provides greater police service or of a court order to address a specific emergency.

In conclusion, I encourage you to let me know of issues that are important to you in Effingham County and Chatham County. I am in office 401 of the State Capitol. My office phone number is (404) 656-7855 and my email is I look forward to this session and serving all of you.